the cat in an empty room

I guess it’s not bad to be remembered in the sometimes poetically exhaustive words of Wikipedia, as someone who “compared Joseph Stalin to the abominable snowman. She also wrote about onions, cats in empty apartments and old fans in museums.”

I’m not much of a poetry reader, but Wislawa Szymborska’s always seemed to me as familiar as tiny epiphanies I’ve had and then immediately forgotten. Her words carry that same cryptic clarity as Emily Dickinson’s and the same touching way of dealing with the tragic, but denying  it tragicness (yes, I know this word doesn’t exist, but I think it should).

Wislawa Szymborska

A Little on the Soul

Periodically one has a soul.

Nobody has it all the time

and forever.

Day after day

year after year

can pass without it.

Sometimes only in rapture

and in fears of childhood

it dwells within longer.

Sometimes only in the astonishment,

that we have become old.

It rarely assists us

in strenuous pursuits,

such as moving furniture,

carrying suitcases

or tromping through a road in tight shoes.

While filling in forms

and chopping meat

it usually takes the day off.

In a thousand of our conversations

it participates in one,

and not even necessarily in one,

preferring silence.

When our bodies start aching more and more,

it silently leaves the ward.

It’s funny:

it doesn’t see us immediately in a crowd,

it sickens at our attempts at mere advantage

and the shrill clamor of business.

Joy and sorrow

are not all that different to it.

Only in the combination of them

does it stand up.

We can rely on it,

when we are certain of nothing,

and when everything seizes us.

It doesn’t say where it comes from

and when it will disappear next,

but it clearly awaits such questions.

It looks like,

as much as we need it,

also it

needs us for something too.

And a poem-like excerpt from her Nobel speech:

“I sometimes dream of situations that can’t possibly come true. I audaciously imagine, for example, that I get a chance to chat with the Ecclesiastes, the author of that moving lament on the vanity of all human endeavors. I would bow very deeply before him, because he is, after all, one of the greatest poets, for me at least. That done, I would grab his hand. “‘There’s nothing new under the sun’: that’s what you wrote, Ecclesiastes. But you yourself were born new under the sun. And the poem you created is also new under the sun, since no one wrote it down before you. And all your readers are also new under the sun, since those who lived before you couldn’t read your poem. And that cypress that you’re sitting under hasn’t been growing since the dawn of time. It came into being by way of another cypress similar to yours, but not exactly the same. And Ecclesiastes, I’d also like to ask you what new thing under the sun you’re planning to work on now? A further supplement to the thoughts you’ve already expressed? Or maybe you’re tempted to contradict some of them now? In your earlier work you mentioned joy – so what if it’s fleeting? So maybe your new-under-the-sun poem will be about joy? Have you taken notes yet, do you have drafts? I doubt you’ll say, ‘I’ve written everything down, I’ve got nothing left to add.’ There’s no poet in the world who can say this, least of all a great poet like yourself.””


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s